This is pretty cool. Tony Notarianni, a Leafs blogger who dissected the matchup between Connor Brown and Ryan Rupert in an early season Friday Night Hockey game on Sportsnet again got the chance to compare two Toronto Maple Leaf prospects this Friday when Tyler Biggs and Matt Finn ran into each other.
Justin Fisher, who’s been keeping track of prospects for us (that involves actually watching the games, who knew?) has seen a lot of Oshawa Generals games and says that Biggs tends to make a lot of plays away from the puck that benefits his scoring line. This is why I wrote earlier that points can’t be the only way to judge Biggs, particularly from a statistical perspective, when the “statistical perspective” when Biggs makes the jump will be determinant on how well he plays off the puck, indicated by his Corsi or usage numbers.
On Friday, Oshawa played Guelph. If you watched that game, you may have noticed a couple of good things for Leafs prospects: Garret Sparks was exceptional, stopping 44 of 45, and being named first star of the entire CHL by Yahoo! Sports’ Neate Sager:
The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect played traffic cop and thief concurrently for Guelph, stopping 44-of-45 shots in an internationally televised 4-1 win over the Oshawa Generals. In one of his best performances of the season, Sparks was the main reason the Storm had a chance to come back in the final period. He stoned fellow Leafs pick (and fellow Team USA hopeful) Tyler Biggs from point-blank range and stopped at least a dozen redirected shots. The 19-year-old also made a sprawling save on Chris Carlisle with two minutes left that kept Oshawa from pulling within a goal.
While Matt Finn scored a goal and Biggs didn’t, you could make the legitimate case that Biggs deserved more goals than Finn got. Biggs ripped a wrist shot past Sparks that when crossbar down, and out, and also got stopped point-blank, as Neate notes. Not only that, but Finn’s goal was an absolute fluke, bouncing off the back boards and off the back of Generals goalie Daniel Altshuller before going in.
Biggs’ possession game, on the other hand, was pretty solid. According to Notarianni, had a +10 Corsi number (29 shot attempts for, 19 against) in 16:49 of even strength play, despite getting a -6 offensive zone start advantage. That is to say, he started 12 shifts in the defensive zone and six in the offensive zone. Extrapolation is dangerous, and this is just a single game, but despite not getting on the board, Biggs did his part.
I was fairly impressed with how well Biggs performed in the defensive zone. He had a great sequence in the third period battling down low with Guelph’s 6’7” forward, Justin Auger.
Worth noting that score effects played a prominent role. Down by a goal from early in the third period and down by two in the second half of the period, the Generals had to play more aggressive hockey, which lends itself well to Biggs getting some favourable possession numbers. That said, Biggs has played most of the season on a top six that has been great sometimes and dominant at other times.
Biggs excels using his hockey sense and penchant for being around pucks in the offensive zone, fighting for space in front and pucks along the boards, cycling deep and throwing his body around. Big and strong he is exceptional at protecting the puck under pressure and forces players to use their sticks or try to hold him to stop his momentum. It’s a good quality to draw penalties. Adding an improved net presence will only help, but there’s been evidence of him developing a greater shooter’s mentality.
A decent player? Maybe. Convinced he was worth trading up to get? Not quite there, because he isn’t the guy who is going to bring the puck into the zone every rush. There’s an interview with Biggs on Page 6 of this month’s “In The O” magazine (available here on .pdf) that mostly has Biggs talk about his father Don who also played with the Generals. He doesn’t seem to want to talk too much about hockey, what drives him, what makes his game successful or not successful, how he grades his play…
This quote: “actually I didn’t even think I was really going to go ([in the draft]” isn’t particularly re-assuring, however.